Why the Scottish Premiership has become essential viewing for Australian fans

On Saturday, Wollongong-born former Western Sydney Wanderers defender Philip Cancar and his new Livingston teammates welcomed Rangers to the Tony Macaroni Arena -- affectionately known as the Spaghettihad -- to open the 2022-23 Scottish Premiership season.

Alas, it wasn't quite the debut the 21-year-old might have envisioned when he joined Livi on a free transfer -- booked in the 24th minute, lucky to avoid a second caution minutes afterwards, then subbed off after 34 minutes -- but it nonetheless marked the beginning of a season in the Scottish top flight that will have a fair share of Australian eyes watching.

Given the long history of emigration from Scotland to Australia, there has always been a level of affection for "fitba" Down Under, and the physical and tenacious nature of play, as well as the global power of the Celtic and Rangers brands, means this appreciation has long since grown beyond Caledonian expats. Previously home to players such as Mark Viduka, Scott McDonald, Tony Vidmar, and many more, Scotland has also traditionally been a happy hunting ground those striking out from the National Soccer League or the A-Leagues.

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But this season the relationship, by sheer weight of numbers if nothing else, has gone to another level.

Twelve Australian men find themselves on the books of Scottish Premiership clubs and, given the league's transfer window doesn't close until Sept. 1, the number may grow in the weeks ahead -- especially with reports linking Socceroos attacker Martin Boyle with a return to the league.

Soon after Cancar's Livingston suffered a 2-1 defeat against Rangers, three simultaneous kickoffs saw Socceroos defender Ryan McGowan and his new St Johnstone teammates lose 1-0 to Lewis Miller's Hibernian; Dylan McGowan and Kilmarnock play out a 0-0 draw with the Dundee United side of Aziz Behich and Mark Birighitti; and Cameron Devlin, Kye Rowles and Nathaniel Atkinson suit up for Heart of Midlothian as they secured a 2-1 win over Ross County.

The following day, Keanu Baccus and Ryan Strain's St Mirren lost 1-0 to Motherwell at St Mirren Park before Aaron Mooy played as an 83rd-minute substitute as reigning champions Celtic closed out the opening round of the Scottish campaign with a 2-0 win over Aberdeen.

Celtic, of course, also have Australia's greatest coaching export patrolling the dugout in the form of Ange Postecoglou; the 56-year-old having turned doubters into true believers as he transformed the Hoops' style of football in his first season in charge and reclaimed the league title from Rangers.

Mooy may be the first Australian player that Postecoglou has signed at either Celtic or Yokohama since his departure from the Socceroos, but the coach has continued his tradition of taking compatriots to his staff this season by adding Socceroos legend Harry Kewell as an assistant.

It's a veritable Aussie invasion, the greatest concentration of green-and-gold talent in a single professional league outside of the A-Leagues -- even in the wake of Tom Rogic's exit from Celtic. Further, in the women's game, Melbourne-born Jacynta Galabadaarachchi is on the books of Celtic in the Scottish Women's Premier League, with her season set to start this weekend.

But why has this come to be? Why, suddenly, are Scottish clubs as attractive to Australian players as a gig in a London pub is to an Aussie backpacker?

There's a variety of factors at play, but one of the most important doesn't have a lot to do with Australia at all. Instead, it comes back to Brexit. As a consequence of Britain leaving the European Union, Scottish clubs have lost the ability to sign and play players with the logistical ease that the Union's freedom of movement and working rights regulations allowed -- adding a further layer of complexity to their international dealings.

Whereas previously a player from a club on the continent could be signed and played immediately, they must now receive a work permit for the U.K. in the same way that a player from Africa, the Americas, or Asia does.

Thanks to negotiations between the Scottish federation, the Scottish leagues and the U.K. Government, this process isn't too complicated -- certainly not enough to scare clubs away from the international market -- but it doesn't play favourites between players from Europe or elsewhere.

This window has seen Aberdeen sign Albania international Ylber Ramadani from MTK Budapest and Rangers bring in Turkey international Ridvan Yilmaz from Besiktas, for example, but the playing field is now levelled between European clubs and their more far-flung counterparts. And it's not just Australians that are benefiting.

Postecoglou made Alexander Bernabei Celtic's first Argentina representative this offseason, having signed Japanese quartet Kyogo Furuhashi, Daizen Maeda, Reo Hatate and Yosuke Ideguchi last season, while Hibernian have brought in Gambian prospect Momodou Bojang on loan from Cameroonian side Rainbow FC and Dundee United have Ghanian teenager Matthew Anim Cudjoe on their books.

Nonetheless, Australian players do have some built-in advantages over players from elsewhere.

There is less of a cultural adaptation associated with a move from Australia to Scotland than from other countries, much as the importance has diminished in today's more globalised, cosmopolitan age. Differences in dialects aside, the language barrier also doesn't exist for players making the move.

There's also the factor that football tends to be a copycat sport, and the successes that Scottish clubs have experienced with Australian imports in recent years have encouraged clubs to plunge further into the Antipodean market.

This is magnified by the success of Postecoglou in his first year at Celtic. Even with the disclaimer surrounding his being at one of the big two clubs in Glasgow, the former South Melbourne coach has not only delivered silverware during his limited time in Scotland but also proven to a few naysayers that Australians might know what they're doing. For the players accepting offers to play in Scotland, the lure of playing in Europe, in a culture where football comes first, second and third, is also powerful. So too, is the possibility of playing in European competition, as Mooy will do with Celtic in the UEFA Champions League this season, and Devlin, Rowles and Atkinson will do in either the UEFA Europa or Conference League.

The opportunity to soak up the atmosphere of the Edinburgh or Glasgow derbies or to get the chance to play at historic Ibrox or Celtic Park also cannot be discounted.

In large part thanks to Rangers' march to the final of the UEFA Europa League last season, Scotland has soared to No. 9 on the UEFA coefficient rankings ahead of the 2022-23 season, its highest ranking in two decades and above the likes of Belgium, Greece and Croatia.

Further, playing in Scotland has proven no impediment to breaking into the Socceroos squad, with Boyle on the books of Hibernian when Graham Arnold took him into the Australian national setup The lure of the Ange-factor also can't be discounted.

And inevitably with moves to Scotland, there is the hope of following in the footsteps of giants such as Viduka, who parlayed a dominant stint with Celtic into a move to Leeds United during the Yorkshire side's Champions League run in the early 2000s.

This is significantly easier said than done -- a recent survey of 11 active scouts across England by The Athletic showed there remained apprehension about recruiting from Scotland -- but there are nascent signs of improvement.

Aberdeen defender Calvin Ramsay moved to Premier League powers Liverpool for £4.2 million this offseason, while teammate Lewis Ferguson moved to Serie A side Bologna for £3 million. Ajax Amsterdam, meanwhile, signed Rangers defender Calvin Bassey in a deal worth just under £23 million; the Glasgow club achieving their record transfer fee for a player they had purchased from Leicester City for just £230,000. His teammate Joe Aribo, meanwhile, secured a move to Premier League side Southampton on a four-year deal that, reportedly, could be worth as much as £10 million. And with the aforementioned changes to regulations post-Brexit also preventing English clubs from signing international talent under the age of 18, English clubs are increasingly turning their gaze north to scout players who can swell their academies -- which carries the side benefit of adding eyes that can potentially be caught by a standout performance.